I must admit… if it wasn’t for my neighbour Andrew, I would never have gone to South Africa. After growing up with all the stories of Apartheid and its eventual fall, it just didn’t seem like a safe place to go. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
South Africa didn’t have the history of civilization that China and India did, but it did have beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife and friendly people. I should also mention that it had comfy beds and great plumbing. This might not seem important, but after six months in Asia it was truly appreciated.
It was also great to be able to rent a car and create our own schedule. The freedom felt just great. No more lugging bags around from bus to taxi to train… just in the trunk and off we go.
We spent about two weeks on the coast in South Africa: a week and a half near Durban and a few days in Cape Town. Both locations had beautifully rugged coasts with nice beaches and good amenities. I could easily have spent a lot longer here.
The kids had a blast too. They searching through tidal pools, building sand castles or just running through the surf. It was great to give them the freedom that we couldn’t give them in many parts of Asia.
There was one day that really stood out for me. We were staying at a beach in Durban and we got up early to do some body surfing. There was a slight off-shore breeze and the waves were rolling in nicely formed sets. The water was so clear that you could see to morning sun shining right through them. They were perfect conditions. I could have stayed in the water all day.
iMfolozi Game Reserve
Believe it or not, I never really wanted to go on a “safari”. As an adult, it always seemed a little silly to drive around in a car pointing at animals. However, I knew the kids would love it so we did a day tour of the iMfolozi Game Reserve. We seemed to hit everything at the right time.
First, we had an awesome guide. Rick had been around game reserves since he was a small boy and had a genuine love of the animals. He knew so much and shared it with the kids. He also had an incredible ability to spot animals no matter how far away they were.
The weather had been cold and wet, but it had just turned around. We had a beautiful day.
Finally, the animals just love us. They came from everywhere to say hi. We saw a rhino rolling in the mud just feet from the car. A herd of giraffe decided to block the road so that we could get a could view. A few Zebra were taking a stroll just ahead of the car, as a break from the bush. The biggest surprise was driving into the middle of a large herd of elephant at least 120 strong. There were elephants everywhere. We even saw some lionesses looking for lunch just feet from the road.
We enjoyed it so much we took our own car back a couple of days later and stayed over night. This time we added wild dogs and hyenas.
Add all this to amazing scenery and you have an amazing experience. I know that I have definitely changed my opinion on safaris.
The Drakensburg Mountains are simply beautiful and serene. We rented a cabin in the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve for a few night and let ourselves be absorbed by the surroundings. We had a view of the mountains and rolling foothills and could hear the babbling brook just down the slope. It was a great place to escape.
The kids and I left Sonja in the cabin and went for a long walk in the foothills. Unlike home in Vancouver, there were very few trees, just undulating grass-covered hills. I’ve never walked in a landscape like it. You almost seem to float above your surroundings, bounded only by the jagged Drakensburg Mountains above.
We even stumbled across a troop of baboons… or I think they stumbled across us. They had the high ground, so it was a little unsettling. We found some high ground of our own and they soon tired of us and walked away.
I would have liked to walk a lot further but the kids were getting tired and we had started late. We walked back into the valley to find our cabin.
If you are in South Africa, you really need to visit these mountains, even if it is just for a few days.
We learned a lot of the different people of South Africa while we were there. The foreign media tells you a lot about the conflicts that have occurred over the years, but very little about the people.
There have been many wars in South Africa over land, money and gold. Many of the foreign players have left or lost their dominance and this has left many of the people lost and confused. It is not just “white” versus “black”. There are many shades of grey and they are all struggling to define their identity and how they belong.
I have a much greater respect for Nelson Mandela now that I have visited South Africa. It is so easy for such a fragmented and lost society to degenerate into violence. He understood that the only path forward was through forgiveness and reconciliation. I just hope that his love and consideration is enough for everyone even after he has left. There is a lot more healing to be done.
I know that conflict and struggle is not unique to South Africa, but much smaller conflicts have led to much more violence in other countries. I only pray that their faith holds and everyone finds identity and belonging in that beautiful country.